Big Country’s first Tejano DJ recalls early days

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ABILENE, Texas (KRBC) — As Hispanic Heritage month continues, we reflect on the career of a pioneer of Tejano music in the Big Country.

A familiar voice to many, Manuel Hernandez used to host a radio show here at KRBC on the weekends before becoming the first Tejano radio DJ in the area.

There weren’t a lot of folks promoting Tejano music when Hernandez started working with the radio stations.

“No, not many no. No, that started after,” Hernandez says.

Before he became known as the most popular West Texas Tejano disc jockey, Manuel Hernandez worked part time as a chef at the Abilene Country Club. He first began announcing dances, then discovered a passion for hosting radio.

“I decided it that it was a good idea to go to radio for a Spanish program,” he says.

He first introduced Tejano music to Taylor County, his programs then reaching towns across the Big Country as far out as Haskell and Ballinger.

Some people would even recognize his voice and approach him as he was out and about.

“They’d say ‘I heard you on the radio! I heard you on the radio!’ Okay, good, good, keep on hearing,” Hernandez says.

He then began to round up Tejano musicians for concerts, and Abilene became a stopping point between El Paso and Dallas. Musicians including Ramon Ayala and Little Joe and the Latinaires began to attract crowds of up to 1,500 people.

“Even the manager of the stations, they liked it. They went by there and saw the crowds and they’d say ‘Manuel, you’re doing a good job. You’re bringing new people in here,'” he says.

Music later became a family affair, as Manuel’s grandson Steven says he fostered his love for music.

“It was neat having like, Rupert Ramos coming by for Thanksgiving dinner and stuff like that. It was fun, you know growing up, I was exposed to music,” Steven says.

A pioneer in Tejano music, the frontier has flourished across the Big Country.

Manuel has served for Abilene’s LULAC chapter, the Abilene Civic Center advisory board, and is a high-ranking member of the Knights of Columbus Council.

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